After a dreadful 2018 season in which he slipped out of the top 10 in the ATP rankings, Grigor Dimitrov could be forgiven for tempering his expectations ahead of the first Slam of the new year.
His form coming into Melbourne wasn't much to write home about, having suffered a straight-set defeat to Kei Nishikori in Brisbane. A first-round matchup against the mercurial Janko Tipsarevic in the Australian Open added to the cloud of uncertainty hovering over the Bulgarian.
Tipsarevic had won the pair's last meeting, in Queens in 2016, and led their head-to-head 4-1 going into this encounter. The Bulgarian's last victory against Tipsarevic had, in fact, come way back in 2013; all signs that pointed to another early exit for 'Baby Fed.'
However, Dimitrov put his indifferent form behind him in style, easing past the Serb in four sets. Speaking to the press in the aftermath of his victory, the 27-year-old conceded that past encounters have no bearing on the outcome of a match and that he wasted no time thinking about his previous losses to Tipsarevic.
"Not really. I mean, the past is the past. I mean, I knew that he's a very tricky opponent. I know how he can play. We had quite a few battles, as you said, in the past.
"So, yeah, I mean, I just was looking forward to playing that match. It was the first match back for me at a Slam, so I was just kind of happy to focus on my side and see where I was at."
The victory is Dimitrov's first following his association with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic's former coach Andre Agassi, and the Bulgarian has attributed his new-found positivity to the free and easy approach to coaching adopted by the eight-time Grand Slam champion.
"He's done so much outside of the court. I'm going to start with that. I'm just a better person, period. On a daily basis, I have learned something new from him.
"Sometimes some of the things that he says, it doesn't really, it has nothing to do with tennis, absolutely nothing to do with tennis. And today before the match we are talking about completely different stuff. I was, like, ‘Oh, that feels nice’. I think he also keeps me on point, keeps me under check. He's just trying to remind you of the good things in life.
"Of course on the court when we are together, we are really zoomed in, very focused. He's super intense. We are on the same page. That's really important. But, I mean, the biggest thing that stands out is that I'm learning something every single day."
While the two have worked with each other the past four weeks, Dimitrov conceded that his schedule is still up in the air.
"We have spent about four weeks this offseason together. That was the best time I could possibly ask for. He's here right now. We will see how we are going to proceed with the further tournaments, obviously.
"So, yeah, I think we will go probably like month by month and also target certain tournaments that we will really feel like."
Much of the schedule will depend upon Dimitrov remaining injury-free; something he has managed to do relatively successfully the past few years.
However, other top players have not been as lucky, with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and even Roger Federer falling prey to the injury bug.
Dimitrov, however, is of the opinion that injuries do not fall under the one-glove-fits-all category, explaining that each player has their own way of dealing with injuries and his approach has served him well thus far.
"I'm not one to judge any of the other players or anything like that. We all have our own process. I mean, whatever might work for some players might not work for me. For instance, if somebody is gluten-free, it doesn't mean it's going to be good for me.
"I think the best things that I have learned I would say throughout these years is I have always been very focused on what I had to do on my side of the net and even outside of the court.
"All those small components like that, when you add them up, I mean, I think I have found a great, you know, a combination of working throughout with the whole team and the recovery and I think also scheduling and so on.
"So I think things are going on the right path for me. I feel like I have improved every year physically."
The Bulgarian will look to build on his early success in 2019 when he takes on Pablo Cuevas in the second round on Wednesday, with a potential clash against Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson lurking on the horizon.Published 14 Jan 2019, 21:31 IST